Two earthquakes in Maraş on February 6, a 6.4 earthquake in Hatay on the evening of February 20 and daily aftershocks… I felt the quake in Gaziantep; I quickly participated in solidarity activities. Where I grew up, people poured into the streets with great fear, tears and shrieks mixed with the heavy rain.
Profit and plunder had taken thousands of our people from Antep.
The question “Are you okay” we asked on the phone in the first minutes of the earthquake then became “What can we do.” Because there was no State. Even our districts, almost wiped off the map, received no help. Our lives are trapped between freezing from the cold and returning to our damaged homes. Our relatives under the rubble were left to die. Search and rescue efforts had not started, and people were left on the streets in awful weather. While the government was selling tents, we looked for tents for our loved ones.
We know that the main responsible for the destruction is not just the earthquake but also the negligence and greed for profit. We have all experienced the destruction brought by rent-oriented urbanisation and structuring that ignores scientific warnings. Those responsible left the people to their “fate” during the earthquake and then to hunger and thirst. We tried to heal our wounds with solidarity, and trucks arrived in the city on the second day.
Needs were determined quickly, and distribution was started. After being in Antep for about ten days, I returned to Ankara because our university continued face-to-face education. However, it was impossible for anyone who had experienced the earthquake, witnessed the people’s cries for help, and saw dead people coming out of the debris dug with pickaxes and shovels to continue their lives as before. We were hurt, we were grieving, we were angry. We lost our memories, cities, history, and loved ones.
At the first opportunity, I set out to Hatay for solidarity again.
When we arrived in Hatay, we saw a big grey dust cloud covering the city. Across the city, almost a month after the earthquake, most of the debris remained in place. Exiting the car, we encountered numerous missing notices affixed to the poles. Despite the intervening weeks, the survivors were still in the first day’s atmosphere of terror. The people of Antakya have not counted the days since February 6; each had different pains and losses; they were left alone, struggling in despair. On the one hand, there is the struggle to hold on to life…
The people were exposed to contagious diseases for many reasons, such as lack of access to clean water and toilets, being unable to take a bath and access to health care. For example, some survivors could not take a bath for a month. While we were observing a severe epidemic of scabies and lice, upper respiratory infections were spreading rapidly. In order to prevent earthquake survivors from struggling with diseases in the coming years, there was no work to prevent asbestos from spreading in the city. Debrises were piled carelessly.
We worked at the Hatay Earthquake Solidarity coordination centre in Defne-Çekmece District, which operates all over Hatay with a vast network of volunteers and has knitted solidarity since the first day of the earthquake, and at the coordination centre in Defne of the Turkish Medical Association and the Health and Social Service Workers’ Union, which have been trying to take measures against epidemics in earthquake zones with their own means since the first day. We went to the villages of Hatay and tried to organise preventive health services.
To make the whole society healthy, to protect it from diseases, to heal its diseases, to heal our wounds together with solidarity, and to rebuild our cities, there is a need to enlarge and sustain the solidarity knitted knot by knot. We have seen the people heal their wounds with the solidarity we have knitted in our cities.
We will rebuild our cities and cultures with the strength and hope we get from here. We will listen to songs again, meet at tables and laugh. Our pain and our mourning are joint. We heal our wounds together and build a new life together.